God and time

It is so common to hear or read that ‘God is outside of time’, or in the more classical old-style theological way ‘the eternal now of God’. Language when applied to God is problematic, but this concept of time owes more to the influence of philosophy (Greek based) than to the Hebrew scriptures. This does not make it wrong in itself as to think about the issue and to decide that what we have in Scripture is language rather than a description of the reality is valid.

Timeless or temporal (but without beginning or end) are the two options. The first might sound more ‘God-like’, but I consider it runs up against numerous issues.

Personhood. God is described as a Being with thoughts, actions, emotions and interactions (and even of learning). All of which imply some measure of temporal sequence. Of course it could be that only we cannot conceive of personhood without time, and that the Scriptures record God in such ways simply because there is no other concept of personhood that we can relate to.

‘In the beginning’. The timeless view suggests that creation also includes the creation of time, and before this there was no time. Again, language has its limitations, but what does the word ‘before’ mean? The words of creation do not necessarily mean creation ex nihilo, but they do seem to attribute to God that he acted inside time. To suggest that God was existing as trinity and decided (‘when’ was the decision taken?) to create humanity to share life with and this was also the beginning of time seems to run up against so many difficulties as a concept.

The Incarnation. The eternal Logos became human. The Logos was not incarnated from all-eternity, there being a change within the Godhead at the Incarnation and for ever. Timelessness seems to me to suggest that the Incarnation would need to be an eternal situation rather than an eternal intention. So there is a very real change for the Trinity – a before Incarnation, a while incarnated on earth, and a post-resurrection but continuing incarnation. Timelessness necessitates that all events (from our perspective – past, present and future) are now all instantaneously occurring within the experience of God. Maybe that makes God sound awesome but in what sense can we say that the future has already been experienced (or more correctly is being experienced now) by God? The return of Christ, the ‘God will be all in all’, ‘his dwelling place will be with his people’ are all descriptions of a future event for us… and I suggest that those also have to be future experiences for God.

I appreciate there are some real difficulties in the issue of time and God. What would it mean that he lives in time? (I suspect that maybe we should be more profitably exploring that time is in God – therefore any creation has to exist in time.) It certainly would not mean that God grows old or decays, nor that s/he is growing in strength and wisdom, as if given another opportunity the next creation project would be better – though we do have the ‘God regretted he had…’ statements in Scripture.

So however challenging the philosophical nature of this discussion is, I find the concept of timelessness all-but impossible to embrace. There are difficulties with God in time – hence the concept of time being in God might be the way forward – but for me I have to lean heavily in this direction. There is a future for God as well as a future for creation that we (God and creation) are waiting for.

So we have to affirm there never was (a time word) when God was not, and there never will be when God will not be. S/he is not created, but has eternally existed, and will eternally exist. I can experience God by the Spirit today, but more remarkably I can equally be experienced by God today. There are no surprises to God in that relationship but I can certainly give pleasure to the One who redeemed me.

The present two-way relational experience is not dependent on our view of God and time, but seems more consistent with with the God of the Scriptures.

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Talking definitively about God

The huge advantage of the influence of Anabaptism is that by starting with a Christology we end up with a God who looks like Jesus. Any other ‘god’ is to be rejected. Now the counter from some quarters is the claim that the Christology being referred to is no more than a Jesus-ology, meaning it is drawn from 3 years of incarnated life rather than the eternal existence of the Logos. That does not convince me as the Jesus-ology gives us the essential and true character of God, who cannot act differently to how he is revealed in Jesus.

Yet regardless of how Christology affects our Theology there are questions that remain about the being of God, such as were raised by Oord’s book that I recently read and reviewed. So I want to touch on some of those in a few blogs. (After all it is February and time for some lighter issues to consider.)

  • God and time
  • God and creation (and fall)
  • God, freedom and foreknowledge
  • God and the eschaton.

And of course, although this site is called Perspectives, all thoughts here will be definitive and the final word on all the above – as if!! Yet that is how we can hold our beliefs in God at times. When Open Theology (the future is not fixed, but free-will agents shape the future) gained some traction with the publication of ‘The Openness of God’ there was a debate and a vote in ‘The Evangelical Theological Society’ as to whether those who subscribed to those views were to be allowed to continue as members.

Defining orthodoxy is increasingly difficult for many evangelicals as there has been a shift in how the definition of ‘evangelical’ works. In 1995 Robert Johnston gave a paper to ‘The American Theological Society’ entitled:

Orthodoxy and Heresy: A Problem for Modern Evangelicalism

(A modified copy can be found here in pdf format.)

In his presentation he suggested that there has been a move from a set of boundaries that once a person strayed outside of them they could be classed as a heretic, to using a core to define the term evangelical. At the core of the core (?) were how two questions were answered:

  • By what authority do you believe what you believe?
    Answer: the Scriptures
  • By what means is a person reconciled to God?
    Answer: through the cross of Christ.

Now we can perceive the issues that are raised. Scriptures: but which of the numerous canons do we mean when we use the term Scriptures? and the critical issue of our hermeneutic – after all we can defend (insist upon) slavery, subjection of women, beating the rebellious child etc. if our hermeneutic allows. We can also defend genocide – indeed we have to use a brave (and necessary) hermeneutic to get round some of those passages. And for most of us we have no effective hermeneutic, but simply a sub-conscious mental tippex (wite-out).

And the cross. We can affirm the above position as a ultra-Calvinist with only the elect being reconciled at the cross, or as a Universalist, and everything in between!

Hence the problem.

I can totally answer the above two questions in the affirmative, and so can carry the label of ‘evangelical’. If however, we were to continually add definitions to the term, my answers would probably go from ‘maybe’ to ‘I don’t think so’ to ‘No way’.

So if the original writers of ‘The Openness of God’ escaped the sword, but only just, I am confident that I have not strayed too far, but also affirm that we need to ask the deeper questions that do not shake our faith but push us toward a deeper trust in the God revealed in Jesus, rather than a dependence on our beliefs. Our beliefs are not the same as saving faith. So as I get time I shall be writing.

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Gates of society

I have written at times on what can be variously termed ‘gates’, ‘spheres’ and (one I object to) ‘mountains of influence’. Recently though I have been thinking again about these aspects. So first to note that language, with all its weaknesses, is important. Language carries concepts, hence the ‘mountain-type’ language I consider very unhelpful as it embeds the continuing belief of hierarchy and top-down change. It is not compatible with the kenotic / uncontrolling love of God.

I started this past week to think about the myth that we now have of the interdependence of the spheres. In the UK – and indeed much of Europe – there is a continuing wonderful health service available to one and all. Increasingly though this is being placed under threat and the response of junior doctors in the UK to the cuts that have been made to the NHS is more than understandable. Likewise, we see threats to education with an inevitable preferential treatment given to those from more privileged backgrounds.

Myth 1. The ‘gates of society’ are not as simple to define as interdependent spheres. Politics rules over, for example, the gates of education and health. We have an education minister and a health minister who shape up how the education and health spheres are developed. Some consultations are made, of course, but how much do those consultations shape the outcome? Ask the teacher in the classroom or the doctor / nurse in the hospital and hear what they think about the policies that they are instructed to implement.

Myth 2. The political sphere is not the top. But there is a top! Something is out of control. Take the payment of tax made by Google in the UK. When Mr. Corbyn asked on behalf of ‘Jeff’ in PM’s question time about the possibility of the individual coming to the government to make the same agreement about the level of tax to pay as Google had just done, the response revealed the situation. There was no effective response other than ‘we did better than former leaders of the house’.

So seems there is a hierarchy (particularly at the global level) with economics occupying the top seat. What if all institutional power needs a voice? Maybe politics is now fast becoming trapped in a double minded prison, seeking to reign in what is out of control, and yet defending it. (Consider the unusual symbiotic yet antagonistic relationship of the beast and the prostitute of Revelation.)

So what conclusions do I come to? Tentatively:

1) at the individual level we have to continue to move into the ‘spheres’, ‘gates’ (or whatever) in order to dismantle mountains – or at least hilltops!

2) we look to the truly uncontrollable areas such as the arts to disturb. Thanks Banksy!

3) we look to see a media that becomes free. (In Spain the majority of channels are controlled by the conservative government, with one channel being owned by a certain infamous Italian politician! In the UK just check the ownership of the press.) The underground press is increasingly important. And as we have been praying for a regeneration within the media, a new media, we have to ask as those shaped by a kingdom mentality, how we define ‘media’ (communication and language). Is it defined by what is or by its purpose?

4) we provoke democracy, not simply the democratic process. And by provoke we do that at whatever level is appropriate – and this has to include prayer to shift the mountains that are now eating democracy, often through the democratic process.

5) that we look for the voice of the street to rise. Untidy, not so articulate, but full of wisdom.

6) that we call for a new landscape while believing that there will be monumental shifts in the structures that have gone out of control. Wholesale collapse is not the way forward – we need to see low-level alternatives springing up.

The European project is rightly being challenged. The fault lines are becoming increasingly visible. There are signs of hope at grass roots, and the way of mercy has to be the way forward.

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Uncontrolling Love

uncontrolling_loveNot everyone enjoys what I enjoy, but read this book and of course you will love it! Oord is one of the leading ‘relational theologians’ and this is the first book of his I have read. It is well written and easy to read – I read it right through in a few hours. I have been heavily influenced by Open Theology, ever since having a connection with YWAM and the teaching of Gordon Olson, then the works of Clark Pinnock and Greg Boyd (and… and…), and of course the main sticking point for those who come in the opposite direction is that of ‘but God has absolute foreknowledge of all things’.

Oord begins with a strong defence of Open Theology, that the future is not predetermined in terms of its details, and is defensive of ‘accidents’ as being ‘accidents’ and not part of some ‘mystery’. I have never been comfortable with the inevitable (sorry for the illustration) that the drowning of tens of thousands in the Med is part of God’s allowed (or predetermined) plan that we do not understand, so his full-on attack of such explanations resonated strongly. Nothing new in that area but his breadth of apologetic was appreciated.

He, however, moves beyond some Open Theologians (he uses John Sanders as his dialogue partner in this) where he posits that we have to understand God kenotically. God is not to be understood as sovereign in the sense of ‘all-powerful’ but his government is one of self-emptying love. This to me, of course in resonance with Roger Mitchell’s works, was where the book became very exciting and provocative. The ‘core’ of God’s being kenotic – from this a position that he cannot act differently other than to pour Godself out. For many Open Theologians freedom is before love… but Oord seems to reverse this. God is love, he creates and gives freedom to creation.

In a very real sense – and here is where I am most exercised – God cannot ‘do’ certain things in this world. He needs our co-operation. Now then ‘come on intercession’, stand in the gap, act as a conduit for change from heaven to earth.

An easy read, harder to process the implications. I probably need to read it again to let it get deeper under my skin as (a very important area) it could really provoke also some fresh thinking on the atonement, prayer and miracles.

PS: For those who advocate ‘God is all powerful’ this always has to be qualified with what that means. He cannot make a four-sided triangle, a stone heavier than he can lift (logical fallacies), through to moral issues – ‘he cannot deny himself’. The ‘but God is all-powerful’ is not a good fall-back position as it is at best a theoretical position. Hence, for all, other than the real extremists the omnipotence of God will always need to be a qualified position.

PPS: Link to Thomas Jay Oord’s website.

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Eschaton or ‘end’ (telos)

Just a short post exploring a possibility. The ‘eschaton’, with the concept of the ‘end’, the age to come etc., is the common word used to describe what is coming. Hence the events (many past) which will include Easter, Pentecost can be described as eschatological events. We then have in that wonderful chapter of 1 Cor. 15 such statements as ‘The last (eschatos) enemy to be destroyed is death’ and Jesus is describes as the ‘Last (eschatos) Adam’.

The word telos is also a word for end but more in terms of a goal to be attained to, so is there a significance that eschatos is used not telos?

Maybe it indicates that the eschatos is bringing all of creation not through to its ‘goal’ in the sense of final destination but to its place of fullness through which multiple ‘goals’ can be reached. Maturity might not be the finality but the removal of the potential to foul up the self-giving purposes of God, hence the list of ‘no mores’ when the ‘end’ (new beginning?) comes, and the burning up in the lake of fire of all that is oppressive.

Just a random thought.

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Last half of the decade

We are entering the second half of this decade and we continue to have a focus on the two dreams that spoke into the decade. (I have written in more detail of those two dreams before but include a summary again.) The first with the see-saw and the years coming down on each side of the see-saw (20 – 10, then 20 – 11 all the way through to 20 – 20 when there was a new alignment and balance). The second where the façades came off the institutions that had shaped the Western world, with the accompanying sobering reality that the familiar brought things back to a so-called normality. The even more sobering part of that dream was the disconnect of the body of Christ with the (God) activity of the exposure. The disconnect was through the body resorting to the familiar (by default so-called God focused activity but by default insulating behaviour). The body being the major spiritual contributor embracing familiarity inevitably became the major factor in returning things to ‘normal’.

Our focus for prayer has been the Western world, the consumer of an inordinate amount of resources, just as Rome was in the ancient world. We have also come to realise that our focus has to tie with our responsibilities. There are many perspectives we might have on other parts of the world but we are increasingly looking to tie our perspectives to where we have a responsibility. This has been an important step for us. We can have perspectives but have little to say as there are others who are responsible for the future of those places.

The work of Christ is a finished work. But the work of Christ does not finish everything, or at least the work of Christ at the cross did not finish everything. Paul spoke of filling up ‘what was lacking’! Not lacking because Jesus was not able to finish it, but because that was not his work to do. He finished the work the Father gave him. He continues to work but in and through his body (Acts 1:1). So we (the body) are here to be the door from heaven to earth, the holy priesthood of intercession (in the fuller sense of ‘standing between’ not simply ‘prayer’). We are responsible for the future, not keepers of the past. There are however specific fields where the Lord wants us to work and take responsibility. When we discover those fileds we take responsibility though we might not ‘succeed’ (not a kingdom word unless success embrace a cruciform shape) but we are to be effective. As salt we are to inhibit certain growths but foster good growth in society.

So our responsibility in this season is Spain. The future of the land is something that we are responsible for. We have now entered our 8th year here and probably have not done very well, but last year was the crossover point of the land not being able to evict us. We might still of course need to be ‘evicted’ by the Lord if we mess up. That crossover point is what gives spiritual leverage, so we know that we are to pull for a future in these next years of this decade.

We have been very blessed to watch the language of some that we pray for nationally. One such person recently said of Spain that where we have arrived is at a point where the old does not have the power to pull things back to what they call normal, but that the new rising at grass roots does not yet have the power to pull things through to the future. His description was so reflective of the see-saw and the shifts. And the language of old/new I do consider so appropriate when applied to Europe – she is like an old woman. In Spain we see mirrored again and again the issue of whether the (often literal) old woman will continue to occupy the centre and rob the future or whether the young woman will find the voice that is now being required. It is not primarily about the young taking centre-stage but of the voice being heard.

The above paragraphs are to give a background to what I now share. The perspectives are shaped by our personal journey and there could well be a measure of projectionism in it. The first half of this decade has been one of finding space and room in a new way. The encounters on the way have been many, but I believe it is so that there can be space to take responsibility for whatever aspect of the public square that is appropriate. So weigh what I write. The next half of the decade begins now.

2016: signs of the direction ahead

Here is the core of what I see in this year. I also see what is happening this year as a pointer to what is to happen in the next five years.

A year of unusual turbulence. Not simply turbulence, but unusual turbulence. There might be a pull to what is normal, but the Lord will mark things by ‘this is not normal’. A year marked by storms (I am struck by the first hurricane in the Atlantic to form in the month of January since 1938 is happening right now as I write). The storms though are not simply weather storms and I saw them ripping through the tops of trees. The tops are where the winds will blow. This is a year when there will be storms that hit the high and mighty. Mountains not to be occupied but to be made low.

It is a time for family legacies to be established. The ‘me generation’ is fast producing a narcissistic generation. But it is not too late. There has to be an unseating of the ‘me’ that has plagued the West. This focus I see as being strongly aimed toward the 50+ bracket. The clash between the strong personality and those who step back from the ‘self-claims’ but clearly carry a focus for the future will be visible for all to see. There has to be some incredible acts of courage that take place – the voluntary unseating from positions of so-called power and influence. So look for resignation – due to the storms and due to voluntary stepping aside, no longer running on the treadmill of performance and notoriety.

Open doors and high fences. Doors open to the other or fences that will accelerate the decline through inbreeding. It is no longer possible to spiritually deal with what needs shifting through the so-called indigenous people of the land. Of course this has applications politically but as I always see the body of Christ being responsibility for society the primary way I am looking at this is concerning the body of Christ.

Patterns for the coming years. This year will afford responses that will both be signals of what needs to be responded in the years that follow, so there will be responses that we do not feel ready for. When we hit the strange challenges we need to be very slow at judging the response by what we know. If we go slowly we will gain insight of what we will need to come to terms with in the years that follow.

Always… every year and very day is a gift. An opportunity to hold things back or to help facilitate an acceleration.

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